Gene Laverne was born in Saint Mathias, Minnesota, the oldest son
of Dan and Aurora LaVergne. Gene's father was quite versatile,
having been a sawmill worker, farmer and carpenter. His dad's roots
go back to Alberta, Canada before moving to Minnesota.
Gene wrote an email in June of 2004 that indicated music was "...in my blood."
He related that he was about 8 or 9 years old when Dad brought home a radio,
got it wired and hooked up. Between school and the radio, Gene was soon learning
about the world. He recalls listening to radio station WJJD in Chicago, Illinois,
then a 50,000 watt station - one Gene says "...became my beacon light day and night."
Then, he heard the songs of such acts as the Cumberland Ridge Runners,
Doc Hopkins, Mert Mennick and his fiddle, Carl and Harty, Randy Blake and others.
He notes that back then, he was able to listen to the WLS National Barn Dance,
WCKY in Cincinnati, Ohio, WSM's Grand Ole Opry from Nashville, Radio Del Rio
in Texas and the KWKH Louisiana Hayride. "It was all live country music. Live Music!
That's the way radio was in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Live people doing our roots
of Country Music on the air."
Gene LaVerne's Jamboree Picture and Song Book tells us a little more of Gene's early
performing career. He found himself going to the local "Sunday-Go-Meetin" and "Saturday
Night Shin Dig" affairs of the day as often as he could. It was at one of those
Saturday night affairs that a gentleman by the name of Harry Burke saw Gene perform
his act. Harry asked Gene to join him and thus, Gene was part of a vaudeville
act known as Burke-LaVerne, even though he was only 13 years old at the time. Gene
got to travel quite a bit on the theater circuit in those days. This lasted about
Gene then became a part of a traveling minstrel show that toured through the south and most
of the Midwestern United States.
But it wasn't until 1940, that "Cowboy" Gene LaVerne found himself in New England
and embarked on a long radio career. However, almost as soon as he arrived, Uncle Sam
tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to server during World War II, which he did
until 1946. He returned after his tour of duty, and married the former Julie Barry, who
herself was a top-notch entertainer.
Gene found himself working clubs, some theater work, then went on as
an act through McConkey Artists Corporation, a New York and Chicago Entertainment agency.
Gene traveled the country for two years. In 1943, he teamed up with
Jake Watts of the former Jake and Karl Country Radio Team. Later
with Jake, he joined the Cactus Cowboys touring major cities in 1944
and 1945 with the rodeo-Col. Jim Eskews champion rodeo touring seasons.
In 1945, Gene was appearing on a live country show broadcast
over KXOK Radio, St. Louis, Mo.
In 1946, Gene organized the Gene LaVerne Crazy Caravan radio group doing
live country radio with personal appearance shows throughout New England.
Gene and his band were heard over the following Massachusetts radio stations,
WLAW, WACE, WOTW and WFEA in Manchester, New Hampshire.
A 1946 article by Dusty Cal Witham tells us a bit about the folks that
were a part of the Crazy Caravan. There was Joe Gallon, who was with Ken MacKenzie's
group for a time. Carl Patrick played the steel guitar. Betty Gribbin was
the other member at the time. In the summer of 1946, Richard H. Keeler was
reporting that Betty had left the group and was working at the C Bar C Ranch
in North Windham, Maine. Bob "Slimmy Wimmy" De Wyngaert was playing the accordion.
And on the fiddle was Moe Callahan.
Lone Star Ranch
Reeds Ferry, New Hampshire
The summer of 1946 saw Gene take over operating the Lone Star Ranch,
located in Reeds Ferry, New Hampshire. It might be good time to take a look back at
this historical country music venue.
The Lone Star Ranch in Reeds Ferry, New Hampshire, a town just south of Manchester,
was first opened in 1938 by a country radio singer named
Baron West. Baron and his friends built the ranch and opened it featuring
country music bands and entertainers. Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Bell owned the property
and permitted Baron West to build the ranch. However, Baron died in the midst
of its second season. (Note: We searched the SSDI database and found a Leon West
that was born on December 18, 1894 and died in January 1940 - no last residence
was listed however and also indicated it was first issued in California.)
In 1940, "Sagebrush" Jim Marshall and his band operated the ranch. In those early
days, entertainers such as Elton Britt, Georgia Mae and other New England
stars appeared on Sunday afternoons during the summer months. Jim featured
acts from the Grand Ole Opry, as well as movie stars and other acts like
the famed Hoosier Hot Shots and the Sons of the Pioneers.
However, Jim died in a car accident. So, in 1942, Ken Lane and his band
from Lynn, Massachusetts and Ken McKenzie from Portland, Maine helped keep
the ranch open.
In 1944, the Bar X Boys from Gardner, Massachusetts and the Circle C Boys
and other outfits helped keep the ranch running and entertaining fans. However,
the ranch closed during the summer of 1945 due to World War II.
Gene LaVerne, a popular country music radio personality back then and entertainer
then took charge of the ranch. His band was known as "The Lone Star Ranch Gang".
Under Gene's guidance, the ranch grew in popularity. During that time, the
ranch featured two shows plus an open jamboree show every Sunday afternoon.
The ranch featured acts such as Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb from
WSM's Grand Ole Opry. From the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, WV, it featured
such stars as Yodeling Kenny Roberts, Doc and Chickie Williams, Dusty Owens,
Yodeling Slim Clarke. The ranch also featured such local acts as Dwight Davis
and the Linemen, Dave Miller, Doug Garron, Clyde Joy and his band.
The years went by and in 1956, Buzz Whittaker purchased the ranch and continued
to offer shows that featured top country acts of the day.
In 1983, Buzz announced that he could no longer continue to keep the ranch open.
The Lone Star Ranch in Reeds Ferry, New Hampshire closed in October 1983.
Gene and his Lone Star Ranch
Gang operated the Lone Star Ranch for 12 years. Gene brought in
famous country acts from the Grand Ole Opry and also from the
WWVA Jamboree, Wheeling, West Virginia. He also featured local
area bands. One of the highlights of the Shows held every Sunday afternoon
during the summer was the Jamboree Portion of the show. Here Gene
would allow local talent to appear and gave them the opportunity
to appear on stage with big-name artists and also get exposure of
their talent. Gene opened the shows with his Lone Star Ranch Gang and
also served as the MC of the show.
In a "What's New in New England" column in July of 1947, we learned that
Gene and his gang were up bright and early, doing a 6:15am show over WLAW
in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
In early 1947, Gene's group underwent more personnel changes. Performing
with the group at that time was Rocky Carroll, fiddle. Little Julie was
in the role of the female singer for the group. And Joe La Flip, a 'French
Dialect comic' as he was described.
The summer of July 1949 saw another change. The group was then called the "Wildcats"
and they were being heard over radio station WACE in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
In 1954, Gene joined WFEA Radio, Manchester, New Hampshire full time.
In 1966, he went to WFGL and WFMP-FM in Fitchburg, Mass. While at
this station, he established a country format and did a four hour daily
block of country music. He also became the Program Director and Account Executive.
For many years, WFGL and WFMP-FM were rated as the Number One country station.
In 1973, won an award as Best Regional DJ from the ESCM (Eastern State Country Music). He
was again cited as King DJ in 1976. In 1979, he was honored as DJ of the year
by the Massachusetts Country Music Association.
For 28 years, Gene organized and flew to Nashville "FanFair Tour groups,"
providing New Englanders with the opportunity to attend this special event.
Currently, Gene is still entertaining. He appears yearly at the
Deerfield, New Hampshire fair and also appeared in 2003 at the Cheshire
Fair in Keene, New Hampshire. He also does private show dates.
Gene was reflective of where country music had been, its roots and where it was going.
He wrote that
"... when our forefathers came to America, then a new land, they sought
a new beginning and they brought with them not only their precious belongings,
dreams, but also their music. They continued to immigrate to this new land in droves
from the early 1800s to 1950 and still more come today. The people in those early
days of migration came from Ireland, France, Scotland, Germany and settled in the
east, the midwest, the mountains, the hills of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee,
the Ozarks and migrated even farther to California. Along the way, a new invention
allowed the recording of music and record they did - on the early vinyl 78s to the
later 45rpms, the long playing albums to 8-tracks and cassettes to today's CDs.
That music became American Music.
It was a powerful American sound, a mixture of Gospel, Blues, Black Music, Blue Grass
and original Country Music. The roots of American and Country Music. It is and was
the way the country has grown.
The country went from candlelight to lanterns to electricity to modern day lighting. The country
went from walking to riding horses and mules, from wagons to the automobile. Then it
was trucks, busses, trains and planes.
From live music to recordings, to television, from the old fashioned telephone
to a handsome new wireless hand held phone that takes Photo's, too!
And now, Gene notes we are on the threshold of unbelievable breakthroughs in Fiber
Optics, the unbelievable growth in the health and medical fields, in genetics, longevity
and in a growing vision of things that are still all unknown and unseen.
"And from my life, of the basic world of Country Music, to an unimaginable
world yet to be shown...I'll be hoping I have a good seat to watch it all!"
—Gene LaVerne, June 2004
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its appreciation
to Paul "Hank" Preston for providing this outline of Gene's career.
- National Hillbilly News; April 1946; Poster Show Print Co.;
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; June 1946;
- National Hillbilly News; July 1946; Poster Show Print Co.;
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; February-March 1947;
- National Hillbilly News; July-August 1949; Poster Show Print Co.;